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Aggravation of Pre-existing Injury in New Jersey Workers' Compensation

When you’ve had a previous injury, and a workplace accident makes it worse, that’s known as an “aggravation of a pre-existing injury.” In New Jersey, this topic is especially important for workers and their rights to compensation. 

What Exactly is a Pre-existing Injury?

First, let’s understand the term. A pre-existing injury refers to any injury, illness, or medical condition that you had before a workplace accident. This could be something as common as an old sports injury, a herniated disc from a car accident, or even a chronic illness like arthritis.

Magnifying glass clearing identifying pre-existing conditions against a vague and opaque background of NJ work injury concepts

The Workplace Incident: Making Things Worse

Imagine you had a knee problem from an old skiing accident. It was manageable with occasional pain. Now, at work, you trip and twist that same knee. The pain becomes unbearable, and your doctor tells you it’s worse than before based on diagnostic testing. Surgery is now required. This is an aggravation of your pre-existing injury.

New Jersey's Workers Compensation Stand on the Matter

New Jersey recognizes that employees with pre-existing conditions shouldn’t be penalized. Workers are entitled to compensation if a work-related incident aggravates a prior injury. It’s important to note that the compensation is for the aggravation, not the original injury.

Proving the Aggravation

This is the tricky part. You must show:

  • Evidence of the original condition: Medical records, doctors’ notes, and other documents can prove you had a pre-existing condition and the extent of the condition.

 

  • The worsening after the incident: Medical evaluations can show the extent of aggravation after the workplace accident.

 

  • Direct linkage: It must be clear that the workplace incident directly contributed to the worsening of your condition.

 

Why This Matters

Understanding the intricacies of this aspect can make a massive difference to your claim:

 

Ensures rightful compensation: You’re not left bearing the cost of an injury made worse by your job.

 

Protects workers with previous conditions: Encourages a fair workplace where employees with pre-existing conditions aren’t discriminated against.

 

A Word of Caution

Insurance companies often challenge these claims, arguing that the worsening of the condition is due to the old injury and not the recent workplace incident. Hence, having strong evidence can be crucial.

Credit for Pre-existing Injury: The Insurance Company's Benefit

While the New Jersey workers’ compensation system is designed to protect employees, it also has mechanisms in place to ensure fairness to employers and insurance companies.

What Does "Credit" Mean in this Context?

When we talk about an insurance company receiving “credit” for a pre-existing injury, we’re referring to a reduction in the compensation they might owe for the new injury. Basically, they won’t have to pay for the same damage twice.

How Does This Work?

Let’s go back to our earlier example with the knee injury. Suppose before your workplace accident, you had a 20% impairment in that knee due to the old skiing accident. Now, after the workplace incident, your knee’s impairment is assessed at 50%.

 

The insurance company would argue that they should only be responsible for the additional 30% impairment caused by the workplace accident, not the complete 50%. The 20% from your skiing accident would be the “credit” they receive.

Why is this Fair?

Avoids Double Compensation: The system ensures you aren’t compensated twice for the same injury portion.

 

Encourages Hiring of Individuals with Pre-existing Conditions: Employers are more likely to hire individuals with prior injuries if they know they won’t be held fully responsible for those injuries in the event of a workplace accident.

The Challenge: Determining the Extent of the Credit

This is where things can become contentious. Determining how much of your current condition is due to the old injury versus the new incident can be challenging. Medical evaluations play a crucial role, and often, different doctors might have slightly different opinions.

 

It’s essential to have detailed and clear medical records. And remember, while the insurance company will seek maximum credit, you should argue for a fair and justly applied credit.

 

"It is a vain thing to imagine a right without a remedy, for want of right and want of remedy are reciprocal. Ashby v. White, 2 Ld. Raym. 938, 953 (1703)."

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